Sleaford Mods’ distinct spoken-word aggression and thumping underground club-style beats have consistently brought furious catharsis to listeners. The Nottingham duo’s apparent distaste for the elite — and, more recently, the inconveniences of life under pandemic circumstances — rampage with fervor on Spare Ribs.
The 13-song album, released Jan. 15, was recorded in a short period during quarantine and is presented by Sleaford Mods as another laundry list of all the troubles that we’ll have to digest at one point or another. But the band takes these troubles in stride, inviting listeners to tackle the qualms of the world with some groovy rhythms to cushion the blow.
“The New Brick” is a short, punchy intro that pulls listeners headfirst into the intricate instrumental scenery musician Andrew Fearn begins to paint around vocalist Jason Williamson’s snarky singing. “Nudge It” and “Out There” boast rich, bass-heavy beats, which border on manufactured at moments, but effectively inspire fist-shaking nonetheless.
“Nudge It” is a scathing commentary on the romanticization of working-class conditions. This aesthetic, most notably employed by the band IDLES on their album Brutalism, received criticism from Williamson upon its release. “You’re just a mime that’s spraying and praying on walls/ And the after-effects are making my skin crawl,” sings Williamson, and it’s enough to make your skin crawl as well.
The beats on “Shortcummings” are more sophisticated and punk-oriented, though they still maintain the simple, repetitive quality Fearn somehow manages to make entirely unique for each song. The frustration in Williamson’s delivery is palpable, and, as expected, his lyrics fulfill a political niche where the working class struggles to coexist with the “posh hamsters” — Williamson’s term for the elite. That being said, the vocals struggle to be heard over the instrumentals, blending at moments into an angry man yelling with a British accent. But the rhythm concocted by Fearn is more than enough to pull the song through on its own.
But shortcomings like “Shortcummings,” if one can truly even call it that, aren’t common on Spare Ribs. “Elocution,” a song unveiled in September of last year during a quarantine live stream, is one among many that contend for the best on the album, spewing brazen criticism in the most casual way. “Elocution” brings a humorous air to the album, with Williamson interjecting into the chorus, “I wish I had the time/ To be a wanker just like you.” Maybe it’s just the song’s abundant use of expletives, but the nonchalance of “Elocution” makes it one of the more entertaining tracks on the album.
Sleaford Mods do switch things up throughout the record as well, bringing in Billy Nomates’ delicate, yet commanding singing on “Mork n Mindy” as a respite amid Williamson’s harsh raps. Another rather unexpected, but pleasantly surprising inclusion, is the sneaky tenderness on “Fishcakes” as Williamson reminisces about his past. His change of tone is barely detectable, but the gentleness in Williamson’s voice finds a perch in the song. The personal nature of “Fishcakes” doesn’t mean it packs a lighter punch than the rest of the songs — in fact, the somber reflection is more gripping for Williamson’s effort to bare his soul rather than just his emotions.
Spare Ribs is a riveting selection of beats and a slew of increasingly relevant messages that mince no words and refuse to shy away from the dredges of everyday life. Armed with a working-class experience and sharp commentary, Sleaford Mods don’t pave new ground on Spare Ribs, but they don’t need to. The album is like adding another tower to the extensive castle of swearing, righteous rage and blunt evaluations of a seemingly endless store of infuriating things done by the upper class. Sleaford Mods’ consistent no-holds-barred approach is, to say the least, refreshing in a world of pipe dreams and escapism.